The following is my homily for the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C. The readings can be found here.

It’s interesting, if you think about it, that art and entertainment through the years has done more to shape our imagination about the afterlife than the actual Bible has. Really. When you think of heaven what do you think of? Puffy white clouds with a gate, angels with tiny little wings. Same goes for Hell, right? The devil is this red guy with horns and a pitchfork, surrounded by flames in the underground. Yeah… none of that is from the Bible.

The fact of the matter is that our image of the afterlife is more influenced by Dante’s Inferno, by Milton’s Paradise Lost, Groening’s The Simpsons. Okay, one of those things isn’t like the other, but I love The Simpsons’ take on heaven. There’s this one episode where Marge goes to heaven to talk to Jesus only to find out that there are two heavens: Protestant heaven, and Catholic heaven. Protestant heaven is basically British—it’s very formal, everyone has sweater vests, they’re playing badminton and croquet—while Catholic heaven is for the Irish, Italians, and Spanish—they’re drinking, singing, dancing, and fighting. It’s great. As if you needed another reason to be Catholic, our heaven is more fun than theirs.

What makes it funny is that we can see some truth in it, right? Heaven is sort of a reflection of who we are as a people, a representation of our experience on earth, a place where we would be comfortable. In most works of art, this is how heaven is portrayed: it’s the fulfillment of our desires, everything about what we are and like, only better. Our deepest fantasies are fulfilled and we can do anything we like. I think of the Robin Williams movie What Dreams May Come. In the movie, heaven is a magical, idyllic place where all you have to do is imagine something and it comes true. He runs around doing whatever he wants, creating what he wants, calling it “my heaven.” It is a reflection of who he is, a representation of his experience on earth.

At first, this might sound amazing. We might laugh at the Simpsons and find it great. But I’m not so sure. When I see images like this, I’m left wondering, is this it? As extraordinary as this conception of heaven might be—getting everything you want, a place just like our lives here—I’m left a bit empty with the idea of it. Is that all heaven is? Nothing more than a continuation of what we have here?

Our readings today suggest to us that this is far from the truth. In both our first reading and the Gospel, we hear stories teaching us that the kingdom of heaven operates a bit differently than our own world does.

In our first reading from the second book of Maccabees, we hear of a horrible situation. The Greek nation is persecuting the Jews, forcing them to abandon God, forcing them to deface themselves by breaking the Law of faith. Seven sons refuse, showing their faith in God, and so they are tortured and killed. How absolutely dreadful! 

Can you imagine if heaven were just like our experience of earth, if there was still pain and suffering? We’d look around and say, is this it? 

But of course it isn’t. For we learn that those who are faithful, those who endure suffering, will be raised up and live forever with God. In God, there will be no more suffering, no more pain, no more persecution. In this way, heaven is a reality quite unlike our own, one in which the just are glorified, in which the righteous live forever to worship God.

What wonderful hope this is for those who suffer in this world!

In our Gospel we hear a similar message, although it may sound strange to us at first. A woman marries seven different brothers and then dies herself, ending up in heaven. The Sadducees ask Jesus who’s wife will she be and he says none of them, for there is no marriage in heaven. For those who are happily married, those who feel called to the vocation of marriage, this might sound very strange, even saddening. Why would Jesus say this? Well, remember what marriage was like in Jesus’ day. It was not romantic, had nothing to do with soulmates. Sure, there was love, but marriage was about ownership. Women were the property of men. Alone, they had no rights, could make no decisions, held no property. They were themselves property. Seven times this woman was passed from man to man, needing protection, needing rights. 

Can you imagine if heaven were just like our experience of earth, if there was still oppression and dominance of others? We’d look around and say, is this it?

But of course it isn’t. In heaven, there is no giving or taking in marriage. In other words, there is no giving or taking of people as property. Everyone exists as children of God, equal and loved by God. There is no more oppression or ownership, no more second class statuses or forced subservience. In this way, heaven is a reality quite unlike our own, one in which all have a place at the table, all can glorify God in themselves.

What wonderful hope this is for those who are oppressed in this world!

What our readings teach us of today is that there is far more to heaven than our projection, that heaven is not merely a continuation of our life on earth. As much as we can watch The Simpsons and laugh, as much as we can watch What Dreams May Come with wonder, they are nothing compared to what we should expect. 

And yet, that’s not to say that heaven and earth are completely separate from each other either. Too often, again, shaped by images of entertainment, we have this idea that heaven is a far off reality, a place completely separate from our own. And in one sense, it sort of it. But remember what Jesus says throughout the Gospels: “the kingdom of God is at hand.” Not, on the other side of the veil. Not completely distant from us today. At hand. The kingdom that we seek, the one without pain or suffering, without oppression and dominance, that kingdom is inbreaking. It’s not fully here, but it’s on its way. Our world today is being transformed by that kingdom, ever renewed and made to look more like it. Even before we die we can have a taste, a peak, an experience of that reality that we hope for in full one day.

We see it, as I always say, in this celebration. This is a taste of heaven, right now what we are doing. Receiving the body and blood of Christ, singing praises to God, being renewed and transformed. This is completely otherworldly, a transcendent experience of heaven right here in our world. 

But it’s not just here. It’s found anywhere Christ is found, where love overflows. It’s found in the self-sacrifice of parents who give of themselves to take away the suffering of their children; in volunteers at soup kitchens who feed people who are poor, who encounter the suffering servant themselves and care for them; in those who advocate for the rights of migrants and refugees, who defend the lives of those on death row, who offer aid to pregnant mothers unsure of how to handle what they’re going through. Wherever we see the love of Christ, wherever we see people acting not of this world but of God’s world, we are not just reminded of Jesus’ words, but we experience a taste of what he talks about. 

Do you ever stop to think about that? Do you ever step back in the midst of something truly wonderful—an act of love, a beautiful sacrifice, the work of peace and justice, mercy and reconciliation—and realize, this is it? This is what I’m looking for. This is what I want with my whole heart. This is what I want for all eternity. 

The answer we seek is not in The Simpsons and it is not in What Dreams May Come. Sometimes, it’s right in front of us, right in our midst, calling us to something different. Jesus invites us not only to seek the kingdom of God in the future, but right here in our present. Find it, announce it to others, and do everything you can to build it up.

This is not click bait. In this video, I legitimately discourage people from becoming priests.

Why? Because some people shouldn’t become priests.

In the midst of a priest crisis sweeping much of the world, the idea of discouraging people from becoming priests might sound rather strange, but let me remind you that quantity is not the same as quality. In my years of formation, I attended two different seminaries, went on plenty of inter-community retreats, engaged with seminarians from all around the world. In that time, I met some truly remarkable people who inspired me to be a better priest. I also met some men that sent shivers down my back.

It should not surprise you that there are men in seminary who want to be a priest for the wrong reasons; there are men in seminaries who will grow up to be horrible pastors, scattering the flock and causing damage to people’s faith. While I make no claims as to how prevalent these issues are, I can ensure you that there are seminarians who do not want to work, who have an inflated sense of self, who believe that they are a gift to the Church and so should be treated like princes, who are more concerned with appearances and perks than they are with prayer and penance.

This will not do.

The priesthood is not a right. Being ordained is not something anyone deserves. Just because certain areas might be desperate for priests does not mean that anyone will do. In fact, the existence of lazy, egotistical, princes in rectories and seminaries might actually do more harm turning people away from the Church than the sacraments will attract. I suspect that having only 10 holy and hardworking men dedicated to the mission of Christ would do more to inspire a nation and rebuild the Church than 1000 men in it for the wrong reasons.

It’s not about the numbers. We can never get caught up in that. Quantity does not replace quality. What we need are not more priests, but better ones. Dedicated ones. Holy ones.

If that’s not what you’re looking for, then as my professor told us, “We don’t need you.” It might sound harsh, but it’s the truth. We need more than warm bodies.

We need pastors. Are you willing to lay down your life for others? Are you willing to give up your own time, comfort, reputation, opinions, and authority in order to serve the people of God? If so, you are exactly what the Church needs.

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Long-time readers/listeners/watchers will know that I am always up for a journey. I absolutely love road trips, hopping on a plane, visiting new places. Wanderlust is real, and I suffer from it.

Of course, one need not actually leave their house to go on a journey. With art and entertainment, we can be transported to anywhere in the world, living vicariously through the protagonist of an epic adventure. It is for this reason that the motif of “quests” or “journeys” are so popular.

This week on Everyday Liminality, Br. Tito and I discuss our favorite journeys in movies, offering our take on why they are so popular and what they can teach us.

This week on Catholicism in Focus, I take a look at how the New Testament was put together and what books were left out of the final edition. In it, I talk about the Apostolic Fathers, works written within the first century after Christ. If you are interested in reading these texts (and I highly recommend that you do!) I’ve provided links below:

The Didache

First Clement

Second Clement

Epistle of Barnabas

Epistle of Polycarp

Letters of St. Ignatius of Antioch

Martyrdom of Polycarp

Shepherd of Hermas

I once saw a statue of Mother Teresa without wrinkles. No lie. It was like the Hollywood actress version of the saint, free of any blemishes or imperfections. It was one of the most bizarre things to witness, but absolutely fascinating. Here was, by all intents and purposes, an extremely ordinary women—no advanced degrees, no landmark works, no heroic accomplishments—who lived with an extremely large heart. Anyone, it would seems, could follow in her footsteps. And yet, in this statue, she was to be somehow glorified, somehow unattainable, somehow special beyond us.

Imperfections? No, we won’t allow it. She must be placed on her pedestal above us.

As strange as this may sound, it is pretty par for the course when it comes to saints. For centuries, people of faith have exalted the saints far beyond their due, highlighting their extraordinary graces and overlooking (or even removing) their mistakes. Sometimes it means removing wrinkles from a statue. Other times it means subconsciously believing that they never sinned or struggled at all.

This could not be further from the truth.

As I suggest in this week’s video, the saints were just as much sinners as we were. They did not believe themselves worthy of sainthood. Like us, they looked to the saints before them with awe and wonder, overwhelmed with the prospect of living up to their greatness. What made them special was not that they were superhuman, beyond sin, or remotely perfect in themselves. No, what made them special was that they recognized their sinfulness and so relied on God.

All Saints Day is a time to remember the saints in heaven, yes, but it is also a time to remember that we are all called to be saints as well. And we can be.